The Medieval Review 14.10.07


Hourihane, Colum. Patronage: Power & Agency in Medieval Art. The Index of Christian Art Occasional Papers, 15. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2013. Pp. xxiv, 368. $35.00 (hardback). ISBN: 9780983753742 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Evan A. Gatti
Elon University
egatti@elon.edu

While a collection of essays that takes patronage, power, and agency as its subject might seem out of step with more contemporary turns in the study of medieval art, Patronage: Power & Agency in Medieval Art, edited by Colum Hourihane, suggests the opposite is true. The collection includes fifteen essays derived from papers presented at a conference sponsored by the Index of Christian Art at Princeton University in 2012. The collection offers a broad look at patronage studies in medieval period. The works of art discussed range in date from the late antique period through the fifteenth century, and the primary areas of geographical focus are central Europe and England. A few of the essays also discuss examples of Italian or Byzantine art. As many of the contributors to the volume note, ideas about what defines acts of patronage, including a discussion of the variety of possible terms used to define what we summarily call "patronage" and the variety of ways that what we call patronage is enacted across time and place have remained under theorized. As noted in Hourihane's introduction, recent work in art history has looked at patronage head-on, especially as the term relates to specific institutions and processes that bring depth to our awareness of the concept, its practice in the Middle Ages, and in contemporary writing about medieval art.

Each of the essays included in this volume takes up the challenge of the term to better understand patronage as a network of actions and relationships in which time, space, identity, and materiality all play a major role. The collection reflects the broader conclusions of the conference as Hourihane describes it: "The baseline, after two intense days of focusing on the subject, was that every work should speak for itself. Looking at patronage and trying to make the work fit into our pre-defined categories may lead us astray" (xx). The essays included in the volume demonstrate this caution, offering a careful study of patronage as a category in the past--where a variety of contexts defined an act of patronage--as well as an assessment of how we understand patronage in the present, especially in cases where our assumptions about a patron have limited the places we look for meaning.

The volume opens with an excellent essay by Jill Caskey, offering an extension of Caskey's work on the problematics of agency in medieval art and turning instead to its potentialities. A broad look at acts of patronage, the essay begins with Constantine's ambitions for the Holy Sepulchre and moves to a discussion of a series of eleventh-century bronze doors linked to the patronage activities of the Pantaleone family. Each commission illuminates the variety of possible contexts for the commission, and, from their making to their maintenance, the doors reference the many roles a donor can play within those contexts. Caskey's essay emphasizes patronage as a network of acts among a cast of characters, as Caskey calls them, encouraging us to consider the sometimes subtle mechanisms by which a patron might be remembered.

Julian Luxford turns our attention to medieval English monasticism, which Luxford argues is "fertile territory for patronage studies," noting in particular its potential to be "historically grounded" because of its "wholesale extirpation in the 1530s and 1540s" (31). More to the point, Luxford's study of monastic patronage asks us to conceptualize patronage as a collective idea, but one that is still unique to the contexts in which it is performed. Luxford argues we should consider patronage as part of the larger networks of gift-giving, and, for the monastic context in particular, include God as an integral part of that framework since monastic patronage is often, ultimately, a plea for salvation. In his conclusion, Luxford warns scholars interested in patronage to carefully define how they understand the term and "the premises on which their studies proceed" (53), arguing, "If the assumptions are tacit, then the concepts may appear flabby or unstimulating" (53). While not often so explicitly expressed, Luxford's caveat is shared by most of the other contributors to the collection.

On par with the first essay by Caskey, Elizabeth Carson Pastan, whom Hourihane credits with the idea for the two-day conference and who penned a foreword for the collection, offers a critique of traditional patronage studies, inviting us to re-think what we know about patronage in the study of medieval art. Appropriately, Pastan's analysis centers on one of the most-studied medieval artworks, the Bayeux Embroidery. Pastan's essay reimagines the production of the embroidery as a material object--made in a monastic house--that could be viewed by diverse secular and sacred communities. Pastan's conclusion requires that we imagine the Bayeux embroidery as a nimble document that offers a kind of ambivalence in both its commemoration of war dead and its celebration of a new Norman master. Rather than a propagandistic victory document, Pastan envisions the bishop-patron Odo as only one of those being memorialized in the work. He may be a named patron, and a brother monastic, but he should not be seen as the singular author/client. Rather, Pastan proposes that we consider the work's patronage in relation to a process of patronage that was more collective in character than previously assumed. And by focusing on the work's reception as well as the production, which she argues using archival information about the display of the Embroidery during the Easter liturgy at Bayeux Cathedral, Pastan overturns previous readings focused squarely on the Embroidery's secular character. Pastan's plea for contextualized study informed by careful reconsiderations of patronage as a bounded but fluid construct is a central theme across the volume. Patronage is not a thing understood by itself, but an ideal shaped by its contexts across time and place, understood as both microcosm and macrocosm.

The essay by Sheila Bonde and Clark Maines focuses our attention on the foundation, completion, elaboration, and decoration of the church at Bourgfontaine as a representation of Valois kingship, but in a context appropriate for the Carthusian order. Acts of patronage are again seen as a network of responses intersecting with expectations, restrictions, and potentialities. In a manner similar to Pastan, Bonde and Maines reconstruct specific acts of patronage by the Valois at Bourgfontaine. Rather than simply imagine them, however, they literally reanimate them in a digital composite image. Focusing on a wall painting that included a donor with model, known today only through an engraving, the authors reconstruct the painted counter-facade of the church, encouraging us to see St. Louis, Charles, and Philip VI as they present the church building to a now-lost recipient. Bonde and Maines argue that each figure replicates the role of another in an effort to align them across time, in a newly expanded space, which acts as a metaphor for both an extended family and the monastic house. Imagined contexts such as this one appear across the volume, often in the closing paragraphs of the essays. When one reads through the entire collection, these intellectual reconstructions work together to offer an active portrait of patronage. This is no small feat for a collection of such disparate foci and helps the volume hold together as a unified conversation.

Claudine Lautier's essay also looks at architectural patronage, this time with a focus on the stained glass window cycle at Chartres. While this might be a relatively traditional focus for patronage studies, Lautier applies this focus to an often-ignored aspect of the stained glass window cycle at Chartres: those commissioned by the canons of the cathedral. Looking at these types of donors as a group, Lautier draws conclusions about the function of these windows as a whole concluding that they are "focused on the Eucharist, and are meant to claim the doctrine of transubstantiation" (118). In setting these apart for study, Lautier argues, they can be considered "on par with the lay donors, such as noblemen and guild craftsman" (118).

Anne Derbes also looks at a work of art, the Padua Baptistery, whose iconography--and maybe more importantly the study of that iconography by contemporary scholars--is shaped by our expectations for the patron rather than the life of the patron herself. Even though we have a will documenting otherwise, the painted cycle in the Padua Baptistery is often attributed to Fina Buzzaccarini in name only, with scholars ascribing the intellectual activity to her husband (from whom she lived and operated separately). Derbes reevaluates the evidence by which we might judge Fina's agency in the commission, strengthening the attribution to Fina by using iconographic details that recognize the program as exceptional. Derbes argues the painting emphasizes the pains and fears associated with motherhood through the inclusion of an apocalyptic woman clothed in the sun and two images of "anguished mothers [who] respond to a crisis that threatens their sons' safety" (148). Following other contributors, Derbes' concluding remarks re-imagine the context for the project, positing a scenario for Fina in which even during the last weeks of her life she was an active art patron attempting to secure her personal salvation, as well as the proper station for her memory and her progeny, including her daughters, her son, her sister (a Benedictine), and the women of Carrara who made up her immediate household.

Benjamin Zweig offers another study focused on networks of patronage, this time with an emphasis on the different roles one might occupy within networks oscillating between the categories of patron-donateur, patron-concepteur (both developed by Beat Brenk), and to which Zweig adds patron-recepteur. Using visual examples of the suicide of Saul, Zweig argues that the first extant example in the San Paolo Bible follows a Carolingian emphasis on sacral kingship where the suicide of Saul should be seen as an act of punishment for Saul's pride. The iconography thus serves as a foil for a celebration of David's humility presented several folios later. Seeing Saul as part of a Davidic narrative allows Zweig to explain a second example in the twelfth-century Ingeborg Psalter. Each of these cases, and four later examples attributed to the patronage networks of Blanche of Castile and Louis IX, use images of Saul's suicide to articulate both an ideal and its adversus. More importantly for a volume on patronage, each of these examples demonstrates how a single iconographic concept might function within an expanded network of patrons: donateur, concepteur, and recepteur. The motif demonstrates that ideals of kingship are not static declarations but fluid presentations defined for varied audiences amid complex but specific historical circumstances.

Nigel Morgan's essay complicates the idea that text and speech scrolls, things one might assume offer a fairly direct way to study patronage, instead offer up complexities unique to their iconography and their media. Using examples from fifteenth-century English art, Morgan explores the differences between text scrolls in manuscripts, often intended for personal use, and glass and brasses, commissioned with seemingly more public functions in mind. Within these examples further issues divide one from another; clerical versus lay patrons, the relationship between the patron and the devotee, or even the function of the image as a marker of the living or the dead. While not a study that foregrounds the complexity of patronage as a concept at its outset, Morgan's study demonstrates complexity through its focus on an iconography often overlooked as something simple or didactic.

A welcome addition to the geographical coverage of the collection, Robin Cormack's essay asks how patronage studies might play out differently (or not) as applied to Byzantine contexts. Cormack's essay ends with the statement that patronage studies in Byzantine art is a "virgin field" (204) and while the last paragraphs of the essay include more questions than conclusions, the essay begins with a list of new resources that might make richer studies on the patronage of Byzantine art possible. Central to Cormack's study is the tension between acts of patronage as expressive of an individual or a community. Using examples ranging from mosaics of specific donors in Hagia Sophia, icons from Mt. Sinai, a donor with model painting from St. Demetrianos at Dali in Cyprus, and the foundation inscription from the Church of St. Michael at Polemitas in the Mani, Cormack demonstrates how commissions we might understand to be individualized and exceptional are regular and communal acts. At the same time, the communal values we see displayed in other acts of patronage, Cormack argues, might benefit from a more individualized discussion of their contexts.

Corine Schleif offers perhaps the most rigorous critique of patronage studies in the volume suggesting that the terms we use require greater contextualization. Schleif argues we must go beyond "textual and visual short-hand" and approaches to acts of patronage as they relate to objects "we designate as art." Explicated through a series of case studies, Schleif calls for careful contextualization of the complexities that surround patronage in the past and in the present including a discussion of historiography that encourages readers to consider systems of power that define patronage in the past and patronage studies the present. Using examples that range from the apse at San Vitale in Ravenna, to the posthumous "donor" statues in in Nordhausen, Schleif calls our attention to shifts in strategies of patronage in both text and image that move from a kind of ambivalence, as Schleif calls it, to the cleverly constructed narratives of support and influence.

Adelaide Bennett's essay opens with a question: "What kind of evidence do we have for female patronage of prayer books" (233)? The answer can be found in a series of examples that, Bennett argues, offer an expression of identity through text and representation and build "a semi-chronological survey of how and where women are represented in Books of Hours and Psalter-Hours that were made in or exported from the regions of Île-de-France, Picardy, Artois, Thérouanne, Champagne, and Lorraine" (234). In many of her examples Bennett suggests that the married status of the female patron shaped personal devotions and, in a context very different from that studied by Derbes, Bennett assumes the husband to be the financier (donor) or patron of the manuscript, also seeing this role extended in text and image as the "protector" of the wife. In this essay Bennett uses text and images to assess the roles women had as devotees, with a special emphasis on the iconography and prayers that shaped their experiences, their place in family, and the family's place in aristocratic circles.

Stephen Perkinson's essay draws a line between the patron of a manuscript and the facets of patronage that might be investigated through a portrait included in a manuscript. Focusing on the frontispiece of the manuscript painted by Jean Bondol, which shows Jean de Vaudeter presenting a copy of a Bible Historiale to Charles V, Perkinson explores the tension between representation and reception. Who has agency here and who does not? It was made for Charles V, but the inscription, the image, and the afterlives remember its scribe, Jean Vaudetur. Or should we see the portrait as the product of its artists, who, among others, includes Jean Bondol? In a discussion of portraiture as both realism and idealism, Perkinson asks who is benefitting from each of these pendulum points. Perkinson reminds us that portraits "established allegiances, made alliances visible, and reinforced social actions" (258), but they also "signal identity--methods of connecting an image to an individual that goes beyond physiognomic likeness" (258). As with other seemingly straightforward presentations of patronage, we are reminded that portraiture is part of larger networks and gift-giving strategies. Among these four candidates, agency is not an either/or proposition and in this context a focus on patronage rather than "a patron" allows for less discrete categorizations.

Lucy Freeman Sandler opens her essay with a statement that seems to stand in opposition to the other essays included in the volume--that patronage in the Middle Ages was a narrow concept. What Sandler means, however, is that medieval use of the term "referred primarily to church dedications or the providers and recipients of ecclesiastical benefices" (275). Since the Renaissance we have seen this term expanded to art more broadly to include "more than payment for production; the term implies financial support on a grand scale, with an eye to some public, not just private, benefit" (275). With that expansion comes the complications Sandler explores using a group of manuscripts made for the Bohun family. Discrepancies between the manuscripts' texts and their images demonstrate the many different ways one might signal agency through manuscripts--here Psalters and Books of Hours--that have both private and public connotations, and invoke active and passive acts of commission and reception. Sandler contrasts two manuscripts made for Bohun women. The first, made for Mary de Bohun, represents what Sandler calls a "passive" patron. The manuscript was produced for Mary (she was a child at the time) by her mother-in-law, the family's clerical advisor, and an illuminator. Another manuscript made for Eleanor de Bohun demonstrates what Sandler identifies as an active account of female patronage. Sandler notes iconographic details in the miniature of the coronation of David that refer instead to the coronation mass of Richard II, a move Sandler states "proclaims Bohun fidelity to the concept of royal power sanctioned by God" (292). More compelling, for Sandler, however, is that this same manuscript includes prayers "voiced in a feminine gender", demonstrating Eleanor's learned and literate participation in the mass (292). These two examples demonstrate the breadth of possibilities for female patronage, but as Sandler concludes, they also require us to expand "our idea of medieval manuscript patronage...to include commissioning, conceiving, executing, receiving, and bequeathing--all activities we should consider essential to our construction of the history of the book" (293).

The volume concludes with an important essay by Aden Kumler, who proposes "a thought experiment driven by the question: what would happen were we to think of patronage as the effects, rather than the cause of certain works of art" (304). Taking Michel Foucault's 1969 lecture and subsequent essay "Qu'est-ce qu'un auteur?" as a model, Kumler develops parameters for a "patron-function," which, like their model the author-function, are intended to emphasize the cultural constructions of the author/patron as a function of making/thinking/doing rather than individualized portraits of a single author/actor or patron. The essay articulates, following Foucault, a four-fold system to evaluate the patron-function as an effect, or a process of knowing. The first point emphasizes the patron-function as a thing "tied to the juridical and institutional systems" that define the patron-function in the "realms of discourse/works" not as single persons or single acts. The second point reminds us that these discourses are constructed differently, in different places, and at different times (307). Thirdly, and this is particularly important to the study of medieval art, the patron-function is not defined in a single moment, or, as Kumler states, by "the spontaneous attributions of a work to its initiator/ sponsor/ commissioner/ funder/ donor or recipient" (307). As was demonstrated by a number of the essays in the volume, the patron-function is defined "through a series of precise and complex operations" (307). Kumler's fourth point is best stated in her own words: the patron-function, "does not refer, purely and simply, to a real individual, in so far as it gives rise simultaneously to a variety of egos and to series of subjective positions that individuals may come to occupy" (307). As with Foucault, Kumler shifts the emphasis away from an individual actor to the effects of a network of actions, across time, place, and space.

With these cautions in mind we return to the value of a focused study on the acts, agency, and power of patronage. This volume was a welcome surprise to this reviewer, who like Hourihane, thought this topic had been explored adequately. It has not and this volume, complete with wonderfully legible full-color figures throughout, makes that clear. The lasting value of the volume of the collection arises from the compilation of these diverse narratives. Each author emphasizes the value of a contextualized study that begins with an investigation of the assumptions inherent in our borrowed terminologies for the process and products of patronage. No matter these individualized contexts, however, as a collection the volume remind us that as a process, patronage studies reflect networks of power and their effects in moments of artist production, reception, and preservation, as well as in our own acts of scholarship.



Copyright (c) 2014 Evan A. Gatti



Give Now

ISSN: 1096-746X | Administrator Login